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House Immigration Votes in Question After Trump Weighs In

Whip count delayed after president tells Fox News he would not sign the emerging deal

Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., removes his bow tie as he walks down the House steps after the final vote of the week on Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., removes his bow tie as he walks down the House steps after the final vote of the week on Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republican leaders are delaying until next week their plans to whip a compromise immigration bill as they seek clarity on President Donald Trump’s position on the measure, according to Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry.

“House Republicans are not going to take on immigration without the support and endorsement of President Trump,” the North Carolina Republican said.

The GOP whip team was supposed to use a Friday morning vote series to check members’ positions on the compromise bill. But earlier that morning Trump went on Fox News and said he “certainly would not sign” the legislation. 

Fox News anchor Steve Doocy had noted the House’s plan to vote on two bills next week, one by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and the compromise bill that Doocy referred to as “more moderate.”

Trump said he was looking at both bills but wouldn’t sign the more moderate one. 

“I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that,” the president said when asked what he’s looking for in legislation. 

Trump then went on to list some specifics, like funding for a wall along the southern border, a reversal of so-called catch and release policies and an end to the diversity visa lottery program. 

Both the Goodlatte bill and the compromise bill accomplish those goals (though the former only authorizes border wall funding, while the latter actually appropriates it). So it’s not surprising many House Republicans were seeking further clarification. 

“I think you’re going to hear more from the president soon,” Goodlatte said. 

Asked if he expects Trump to walk back the comment, the Virginia Republican said, “That’s all I’m going to say. I’m going to let the president speak for himself.”

Goodlatte was involved in negotiations on the compromise bill but has also been working on revisions to his more conservative bill that the Trump administration has previously endorsed.

Trump said more through a tweet Friday afternoon, but mostly repeated what he said in the Fox News interview.

“Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!”

The tweet mentioned two things Trump didn’t touch on in the interview: ending so-called chain migration, which relates to legal immigrants being able to sponsor visas for their relatives, and going to a merit-based system.

Those could possibly be Trump’s hang-ups when it comes to the compromise bill.

The measure cuts family visas only for married children and adult siblings of U.S. citizens. It would reallocate those and the diversity visas for countries with historically low levels of U.S. migration to a new visa for “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, and other young immigrants who have temporary legal documentation.

The new visa is granted on a merit basis, but it’s the only part of the bill that shifts the current family-based system toward a merit-based one.

‘All options open’

The House was planning to vote on both bills next week, but the confusion over Trump’s position could ultimately lead to a delay.

“We’re leaving all options open,” California Rep. Jeff Denham, one of the moderate Republicans involved in negotiating the compromise bill, said when asked to react to Trump’s comment. 

When asked if he was referring to the discharge petition he and other moderates had been pushing to force a series of immigration floor votes, Denham confirmed that’s one option.

“All options,” he said. “There are other options we have, as well.”

The discharge petition, which would likely result in legislation supported by Democrats and a few dozen Republicans, has 216 signatures. Only two more Republicans would need to sign on to activate it, but an underlying queen of the hill rule setting up a series of four immigration votes couldn’t be called up until July 23.

The petition was expected to get to 218 signatures on Tuesday had House Republicans not reached a deal. Leadership seemed to appease moderates who had been pushing the discharge petition when it scheduled votes next week on the Goodlatte bill and the compromise measure, which was still being developed at the time. 

Draft bill text of the compromise measure was released Thursday, and members involved in the negotiations had said they were seeing further changes

Rep. Dan Newhouse, one of the members who decided not to sign the discharge petition because of the deal for other votes, said he hadn’t heard Trump’s Friday comments.

“If he was saying that some of the elements he wanted were not in there, obviously they are — and I hope the clarification covers that,” the Washington Republican said. 

Newhouse said this has not changed his thinking on the discharge petition and declined to say what he would think if the president’s stance doesn’t change.

“I don’t want to deal in what-ifs right now,” he said. “Let’s see what the clarification is, and then we’ll go from there.”

Conservative concerns

Rep. Jim Jordan, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who was involved in negotiating the compromise measure, said he interpreted Trump’s comment as expressing concerns about “the watered down Goodlatte bill.” 

“We conservatives have concerns about it too, but we’re willing to look at it,” the Ohio Republican. “And I think that’s probably where the president is.”

Jordan said he expects there will need to be more changes to the compromise measure to move it in a more conservative direction. 

“There are things that are in the Goodlatte legislation which aren’t in the speaker’s bill, dealing with immigration policy and with border security,” he said. 

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows also interpreted Trump’s comment as him wanting a more conservative bill than the compromise measure.

“The president obviously wants the most conservative bill he can get 218 votes for,” the North Carolina Republican said. “The fact that we haven’t voted on Goodlatte and the fact that he still has support for Goodlatte does not surprise me. And that’s because he’s expressed that support for Goodlatte before.”

Meadows, who is in regular contact with Trump, declined to say whether he spoke with the president about the compromise bill, which he said he has not read yet.

Leadership has not indicated a change in plans to vote on both bills next week, Meadows said, but he noted he’s been advocating for a vote on the Goodlatte bill first. 

“For many conservatives, they have believed that we have to have a vote on Goodlatte — pass or fail — before they can go on to truly negotiate on a bill that may be less conservative than that,” he said. “I’ve been saying that for seven months. What the president has supported has been the Goodlatte bill. You’ve got to figure out whether it’s going to pass or fail, and that’s more than just rhetoric coming from someone who says it’s going to pass or fail, because we’ve seen that not necessarily always hold true.”

Specifically, Meadows has recommended to leadership that the House vote on Goodlatte and then adopt a rule for debating the compromise bill so “you’ve got a locked and loaded rule that’s there to bring up a bill that is a speaker-driven bill.”

Then, if the Goodlatte bill fails as leadership has said it would if it were brought to the floor, members and the general public could “understand the parameters of what failed” and evaluate what issues are important going forward, he said.

“I need to know what my district wants once this is off the table,” Meadows said. “And that’s hard to get in a matter of an hour of debate between one bill failing and another one being voted on.” 

Dean DeChiaro and John T. Bennett contributed to this report. 

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